Finland’s Long Road to Independence

Finland isn’t a very old country. The decleration of independence was signed on December 6th, 1917. That’s when Finland became independent. But how Finland became independent, is a bit longer story.

Finland isn’t a very old country. Independence Day has been celebrated in Finland just over a hundred times since 1919. Before Finland became independent, it was first part of Sweden for hundreds of years and then part of the Russian Empire in 1809-1917. So it took a long time for Finland to become independent. But what things paved Finland’s long road to independence? Here are some of the things which strengthened the feeling of nationalism and made independence possible.

1543 – First Book in Finnish

Mikael Agricola published the first book in Finnish language. It was basically an ABC book called the the Abckiria. Mikael Agricola also translated the New Testament into Finnish and thus laid the foundation for the Finnish written language.

1809 – Autonomy

When Finland was joined to Russia in 1809, Russian Emperor Alexander I granted Finland an extensive autonomy creating the Finnish state.

1809 – Finnish Senate

Finland’s new governing body, the Senate was established in 1809. The members of the Senate were Finns. The Grand Duke of Finland was the Russian Emperor, whose representative in Finland was the Governor General.

1809 – Diet of Four Estates

Finland’s Diet of the Four Estates (nobles, clergy, burghers and peasants) met for the first time in the city of Porvoo in 1809. Then there was a long break, until they began to meet regularly since 1863. The Finland’s Diet of the Four Estates passed over 400 pieces of legislation.

1835 – Finnish National Epic

Elias Lönnrot created the Finnish national epic Kalevala. The book consists of short ballads and lyrical poems collected from oral tradition. Kalevala was first published in 1835.

1848 – Finnish National Anthem

The Finnish national anthem was performed for the first time in 1848.

1860 – Finnish Currency

Finland adopted its own currency, the markka, in 1860.

1863 – Finnish becomes Official Language

In 1863, Finnish became Finland’s second official language. Until this point, Swedish had been the only official language in Finland, although only a small minority of the Finland’s population spoke Swedish as their first language.

1878 – Finnish Army

In 1878, it was made possible for Finland to form its own army.

The First Era of Oppression (1899-1905)

Finland’s long road to independence took a step back in 1899-1905. In the first era of oppression, Russia tried to gain stronger control over Finland. In 1900 it was decreed that Russian would be Finland’s third official language, and in 1901 it was decreed that Finns would serve in the Russian army, while Finland’s own army should be disbanded. But Finns struggled hard against these Russification attempts.

1905 – National Strike

The 1905 Revolution in Russia eased the situation in Finland. And after the national strike, the Emperor was forced to restore the situation that had prevailed before 1899.

1906 – Finnish Parliament

One result of the strike was the complete reform of the Finland’s parliamentary system. It was proposed that a new legislative body would replace the old Estates. The Emperor approved the proposal and the Finnish Parliament was established. With one big step Finland’s Diet of the Four Estates was replaced with a unicameral parliament.

1907 – First Parliamentary Elections

The first parliamentary elections in Finland were arranged in 1907. No longer was the right to vote dependent on social status or gender. Everyone over the age of 24 were allowed to vote. This meant that Finnish women were among the first in the world to have the right to vote and to stand for election.

The Second Era of Oppression (1909-1917)

Unfortunately, the new Parliament soon lost its legislative power. During its first years, the Parliament was dissolved by the Emperor several times. And in 1910, all important legislative work was transferred to Russia.

1917 – Finland becomes Independent

The turmoil caused by the First World War and the Russian Revolution made it possible for Finland to separate from the Russian Empire. In March 1917, Finland obtained its autonomy again. And in November, the Finnish Parliament declared itself the supreme organ of the state.

Few weeks later, on December 6, Finland declared its independence. The Bolshevik government, which had seized power in Russia after the October Revolution, recognised Finnish independence on December 31, 1917.

This is Finland
Parliament of Finland
Prime Minister’s Office
Finnish National Agency of Education
Image by Johanna Moorhouse / Parliament of Finland

Finland’s Independence Day is December 6

Independence Day is a national holiday, so most people have the day off. Restaurants and some shops may be open, but most businesses are closed.

Finland became independent in 1917, so Finland is more than a hundred years old. Independence Day was celebrated for the first time in 1919. But the biggest celebration was in 2017, when Finland turned 100 years old!

Finland’s Independence Day is a National Holiday

Independence Day is a national holiday in Finland, so most people have the day off. Restaurants and some shops may be open, but most businesses are closed.

Finns usually celebrate independence day at their homes, or with friends or family. People might make something special for dinner, light the white and blue candles and raise the Finnish flag. Independence Day is one of the Finnish flag flying day. Flag should be raised at 8am and lowered at 8pm.

Image by Ilari Järvinen / Finnish Heritage Agency